It’s been one heck of a crazy week in my world. It all kicked off with a crazy race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series. We went into Sunday with Chip Ganassi and his team still looking for their first win of the season, and Sebastien Bourdais aiming for his second win in 2014 after achieving his second Verizon P1 Award this year. The past two years at Mid-Ohio were raced by the IndyCar series caution-free. They broke that streak in the first lap this past Sunday, August 3rd.
Tony Kanaan & Marco Andretti – Lap 1
Chip Ganassi Racing Teams driver, Tony Kanaan, who has been finding himself on the podium this year, but without a win so far, got caught up with Josef Newgarden in Turn 4 right after the green. Kanaan’s car got sideways and collected Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport as collateral damage in the early incident. These were the only two cars taken out by this accident which is surprising since Tony started up front from P3. Both drivers have had rough years but their first concern was that they were both okay, rather than jumping to conclusions, anger or pointing fingers at each other or anyone else. Moments like that, as scary as they are, yield some of the most touching reasons why I love this series and proves that IndyCar might have it’s fair amount of #IndyRivals, but at the end of the day, all of these drivers consider themselves part of a very elite group of athletes. They respect each other immensely, the respect the fans that come out to support them and most importantly, they respect the seriousness of the sport and the fractions of seconds that could define their lives and the lives of those around them.
James Hinchcliffe: Canadian Cowboy
One of the other reasons this series proves to be the best racing on the planet, is the amount of talent and skill that it takes for these drivers to control the DW12 and the attention to detail it demands from them in order to end up in victory lane. Much like a cowboy controls a bucking bronco around barrels, IndyCar drivers control horsepower and revvin’ machines on a wild road course. The perfect example of this was the evasive and impressive maneuver of P17 starter, James Hinchcliffe. Marco Andretti’s teammate, Hinchcliffe, started just one position behind him but was able to avoid the carnage that Andretti found himself right in the middle of. How exactly did he do it? Well, according to Hinchcliffe in the post-race presser, “I closed my eyes.” Despite Hinchcliffe’s joking and laid-back attitude, it’s clear to see in the replay that his moves were all very purposeful and expertly executed. It wasn’t the first time Hinch made some smooth moves to get out of potential trouble this past weekend… check out his earlier “car choreography” during Saturday’s final practice session. Hinch ended up with a P3 podium finish on Sunday, his best finish since Race 1 in the 2013 Houston doubleheader.
Ryan Hunter-Reay Remains Hit or Miss
2014 has been a rollercoaster for Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay. While he has landed on the podium 5 times this season with 3 of those being race victories, he has also finished outside the Top 10, seven times… with the majority of those being P15 or worse. He has earned one Verizon P1 Award in 2014 but the flip side is that he has received a DNF 4 times – most recently in Toronto during Race 1. No one really knew how the Mid-Ohio weekend would go considering Hunter-Reay topped every Practice session with fastest speed on the track, but only ended up qualifying P5 after earning the pole position here in 2013. In an interview prior to qualifying, Hunter-Reay was asked whether he felt he was still in the points race; if the Penske guys were catchable. He replied,
“Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely they are. We’re going to keep our heads down, hopefully be a bit of an underdog going into Fontana with the title on the line. That’s all I can ask for.”
Unfortunately, the race was not without incident for the 2012 IndyCar Champion. He was cited with a pit speed violation on lap 27 and then spun out at Turn 11 causing a full course yellow on Lap 37. He ultimately ended up getting back on the lead lap and finishing in 10th place. Not a terrible result, but not what the Championship contender was aiming for either.
Scott Dixon & Josef Newgarden Battle for P1
One of the best battles of the day was up at the front of the pack, watching up-and-coming racing talent Josef Newgarden, of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing gain on Ganassi driver, Scott Dixon in an attempt to take P1 from him. This battle was going on for the best part of the middle of the race when Newgarden was issued a drive-thru penalty or running over an airhose in the pits on Lap 65. That pretty much solidified the end of his chances to continue a battle with Scott or even a podium finish. After qualifying in P2, tying his career-best start with Texas Motor Speedway this season, and having a battle that fans, teams and media all loved to watch, it was, for lack of a better term… a bummer to see him end up in P12 on Sunday.
The conclusion of the race however, was anything but a bummer! Scott Dixon, coasting in to Victory Lane on nothing but fumes, clinched his 5th win at Mid-Ohio and his 1st win of the season not to mention Ganassi’s 1st win of 2014, 6th consecutive win at Mid-Ohio and 10th team win overall at the track! Now THOSE are some impressive stats! Oh, and did I mention that Dixon started the race from last place on the grid…? Because he did.
His happiness was blatantly obvious as he jumped out of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and celebrated his win. The win was not an easy one either. As much as Dixon loves the track in Lexington, OH… and as much as it seems to love him back, strategy with fuel and tires plays a big role in finishing the race and finishing it well. Dixon had pole-sitter Sebastien Bourdais on his tail for the last portion of the race and even pulled away with a 9-second lead on Lap 88. That was when his lead started diminishing but not quickly enough to lose P1. He took the checkered exactly 5.3864 seconds ahead of Bourdais! He even admitted after the race that he, “… just coasted for most of the last lap. It was pretty tight.” Despite the lack of fuel keeping him from doing a victory lap, a win is a win… and this win in particular, was Dixon’s 34th tying IndyCar legend, Al Under Jr. for the 6th most career wins of all time.
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race will be in Wisconsin at the historic Milwaukee Mile on August 17th at 3pm EDT. Television coverage will be brought to you live via NBC Sports and I will be tweeting live throughout the race weekend from a distance. My next live trackside reporting will be from the 2014 Series Finale in Fontana, California over Labor Day weekend. Until then, keep up with everything IndyCar by following MTAF Wheels on Twitter & Facebook, as well as my public pages on MTAF Wheels, Twitter & Facebook.